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‘I wanna entertain you and make you feel good, and go to sleep with a smile on your face,’ the comedian declared in the run-up to this week’s debut of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. (Lloyd Bishop/AP)
‘I wanna entertain you and make you feel good, and go to sleep with a smile on your face,’ the comedian declared in the run-up to this week’s debut of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. (Lloyd Bishop/AP)

John Doyle

Jimmy Fallon is the nicest guy on late-night. That may be a problem Add to ...

Everybody does click-bait videos now. And, in fact, Fallon opened his Tonight Show era this week with what looked like several. The hip-hop dance video with Smith. The U2 performance. And yet, probably what struck most viewers was Fallon’s sincerity. He talked about his wife and daughter. He introduced his mom and dad. He made sure everyone knew he was humbled.

In USA Today, the most mainstream of American news outlets, critic Robert Bianco wrote, “While gratitude and humility are admirable traits, there were times in Monday’s opening moments when Fallon risked taking them to uncomfortable extremes.” That’s the possible problem right there – Fallon’s a nice man, but sometimes, in comic style, a million miles from the savage mockery and wit of the Saturday Night Live spirit of which he was a part.

Last month, when Fallon and Tonight Show boss Josh Lieb met TV Critics is L.A., Lieb was asked if the young, music-savvy and social-media-smart Fallon might be too hip for The Tonight Show’s core audience. “He’s the least exclusive comedian I know,” Lieb replied. “He wants everyone to laugh with him.”

Fallon himself seemed tired at that press session, and little wonder. He’d been touring the U.S., stopping in at all those NBC affiliate stations whose local news will lead into his Tonight Show. He was introduced to critics by a member of the NBC brass with this: “Fallon will put his own stamp on the storied NBC late-night franchise with his unique comedic wit, on-point pop-culture awareness, welcoming style, and his impeccable taste in music.” The “on-point pop-culture awareness” is the on-point quote in that statement.

When Fallon was asked about any advice he’d been given, he said Leno had told him that his monologues are too short. This was true of his Late Night show and was true this week of his Tonight Show. Fallon quoted Leno: “A lot of people work all day, or they work two jobs, and they don’t get around to seeing the news. If they happen to miss the news, weirdly enough, they go to you for it. So you have to have … make jokes about what’s going on so that everyone knows.” Added Fallon: “And it really hit me, and I go, Oh, of course. I remember growing up watching Weekend Update. I got all my news from Saturday Night Live.”

Fallon hasn’t taken the advice very far. Some lame Rob Ford jokes this week, some silly stuff about NBC’s Bob Costas at the Olympics. He’s staying away from the news, really. He’s not going to savage politicians (apart from the ridiculous Ford). He’s not going to needle other media outlets. He’s too lovable for that. He’s nice. He’s not out to debunk.

Concurrently, around him on late-night TV, debunking is all the rage and there is rage in the debunking. Fallon’s the odd man out. Maybe it will make him the popular guy. Or maybe he will need to get some rage going. Viral videos are all very well. But, like Fallon, they’re usually merely cute, not cutting. We’ll see.

LATE  NIGHT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

It may only be Jimmy Fallon’s first week as host of The Tonight Show, but he’s already won one contest: His debut prompted more tweets than the finale of his predecessor, Jay Leno. Quoting data supplied by Nielsen SocialGuide, Mashable reported that 157,600 tweets about Fallon’s show were sent during his Monday-night broadcast; only 79,400 were sent during Leno’s final show on Feb. 6.

Fallon’s popularity on social media is one reason NBC tapped him for the new gig. Here’s how his numbers compare to those of other late-night TV denizens:

Number of YouTube subscribers

Jimmy Kimmel Live: 3.86 million

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

(now The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon): 2.15 million

Conan: 1.43 million

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: 131,000

Late Show with David Letterman: 27,880

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: 9,500

Twitter followers (personal accounts, unless otherwise noted)

Jimmy Fallon: 11.6 million

Conan O’Brien: 10.1 million

Stephen Colbert: 5.94 million

Jimmy Kimmel: 3.61 million

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (no personal account): 2.22 million

Craig Ferguson: 1.84 million (Late Late Show account: 20,500)

Jay Leno: 670,000

Late Show with David Letterman (no personal account): 268,000

- Simon Houpt

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